Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The end of Winfly....

Sorry for not writing lately. The research has kept me very busy. This blog thing is a new “responsibility” for me that I haven’t entirely figured out how to fit in my schedule yet. Anyway….

So, it’s the end of the Winfly season. Tomorrow is the big day when the Antarctic sky will fill with airplanes. Well, not really “fill” with airplanes, but 2 planes will be landing on the ice runway tomorrow. Both of the planes will be spewing out people and supplies and, if we are really lucky, fresh food. We’ve been in Antarctica for about 6 weeks so far. The Winfly season has been very kind to us in terms of the scientific research accomplished and the overall Antarctic experience. With less people on base during Winfly, life has much more of a family feel to it. You get a chance to know people better. On the science side of things, with less scientific research groups here, we get more attention and, more importantly, more space than we will come Mainbody (Mainbody is the word used to describe when Winfly is over and operations at McMurdo Station go into full swing). In fact, with the start of Mainbody our lab now has to move out of our cozy little office space as well as our aquarium laboratory. Basically, we have to share more. Not a problem, but we have grown to enjoy the extra space afforded to us by the Winfly season.

A great thing about Winfly is the chance to experience the Antarctic night. The stars are brilliant and if you are really lucky, you’ll get to see the Southern lights (aurora australialis). We weren’t lucky, but hey, the stars were great. The sun remains very low on the horizon during the late winter period as well. This creates sunrises and sunsets that can last for hours on end. At this point though, the night as all but evaporated. As I write this it’s 10pm and the sun has just set behind the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, creating a twilight condition that will probably last the next 3-4 hours. At which point it will get just a bit darker and stars will be seen, but only briefly as the sun will shortly begin to rise again. As the days continue, the sun’s dip below the horizon will get shallower and shallower as the twilight darkness becomes less and less. Finally, the sun will not drop below the horizon, but briefly disappear only behind the trans-Antarctic Mountains. By mid-October the sun no longer dips low enough to be obscured by anything, at which point it will simply run circles around us getting higher and higher in the sky, providing constant daylight. Only in late February will the sun venture below the horizon again.

At this point I’m trying to get some pictures together showing the evening and night time look of McMurdo. Cause after that, it'll be nothing but daytime photography. Hopefully in a couple of days I’ll have those ready for you and have the link to them posted here.


At October 7, 2004 at 9:02 AM, Blogger M said...


Is there a native people to Antartica? I don't recall ever hearing of one. If so, do they have some kind of government? If not, who really governs what happens there? Is it considered a territory of another country?

At October 7, 2004 at 8:00 PM, Blogger on Bushmills I stagger said...

Michelle, that's a great question. Antarctica is extemely unique in that there are no people that can truly call Antarctica home. No cultures or civilizations have ever developed here. It probably wasn't until the 1800s the a human ever even saw the coastline of Antarctica (it is thought that European whaling ships probably were the first to spot Antarctica as they ventured further and further south in search of whales).

Antarctica today is protected by an international agreement called The Antarctic Treaty. Nations who sign the agreement then use Antarctica strictly for scientific research. These nations (not sure how many have signed it, but it's over 20) then setup research stations (such as McMurdo, which is the largest) all over the continent where they study anything from wondering albatross to glaciers and astronomy (it helps to have a night that lasts 4 months). So at this point in our history, Antarctic is viewed as a 'natural laboratory'. It is this agreement and our nations ability to fund scientific research that allows people like me to come here and conduct biological research. Furthermore, this agreement protects the continent from being exploited for its natural resources, which it has a lot of. If the Treaty were to expire, you can be sure the major oil companies would be down here in a heartbeat setting up shop. The geological history of Antarctica indicates that there are likely to be huge deposits of fossil fuels under the miles of ice and land. For now Antarctica is the most prestine continent on Earth and is an important focal-point of international scientific cooperation.

Hope that helps, at least a little bit.

At October 8, 2004 at 11:28 AM, Blogger M said...

Thanks for the info!

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